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166km (103 miles) N of Dublin, 340km (211 miles) NE of Shannon, 201km (125 miles) E of Sligo, 422km (262 miles) NE of Cork

For those who remember a Belfast plagued by violence in the 1970s and '80s, thinking of the city in terms of tourism rather than terrorism can be difficult, but things have changed here. Nearly half a million people -- a third of Northern Ireland's population -- live in Belfast, and while most of them live in neighborhoods segregated by religion, you rarely see signs of tension in the city center. Central Belfast has been repaired and polished, and it is a pleasure to wander its narrow lanes, to linger in its historic pubs, and to dine in the Michelin-starred restaurants it couldn't have dreamed of 25 years ago.

Things to Do

The elaborate Victorian City Hall is a great place to start exploring the city. Don't miss the leafy and historic University Quarter. And no trip to Belfast is complete without a tour of the Peace Wall and the murals on the Falls and Shankill roads -- it's important to see both sides of modern life in Belfast.

Shopping

In central Belfast, the streets and Victorian arcades around Donegall Place are filled with gift boutiques and jewelry shops. Look out for good buys on Belleek china, linen, and crystal. For chain stores try the Westfield Castlecourt Shopping Centre on Royal Avenue or the grand, glass-domed Victoria Square shopping center.

Restaurants & Dining 

Belfast's varied restaurant scene has been making waves in the last few years. Its two star chefs (Michael Deane and Paul Rankin) are famed for their use of fresh Irish produce and innovative cooking techniques to create one-of-a-kind dishes. Happily, there's plenty of affordable, traditional Irish cuisine in Belfast's pubs as well.

Nightlife & Entertainment

Most visitors to Belfast are drawn to the historic pubs hidden down pedestrianized lanes around Donegall Place. These are great places to have a pint and chat with the locals. There's also a fast-growing new generation of hip modern bars mostly clustered in the University Quarter, where the music is cutting edge.